The Best Hiking Trails in Michigan

A hiker on the escarpment above Lake of the Clouds in Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park
A hiker on the escarpment above Lake of the Clouds in Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park | © Jim West / Alamy Stock Photo
Photo of Frank Lopez
Writer3 August 2020

There are more than 12,000mi (19,312km) of trails to explore in Michigan, and the four seasons only enhance the state’s natural beauty as you venture along coastlines, forests and canyons. Whether it be in the golden hues of autumn, on the white paths of winter or under the blue skies of spring and summer, Michigan is hard to match for the outdoor pleasure and adventure of following the trail.

Lake of the Clouds Escarpment Trail

Natural Feature
Map View
Bluffs and Trees Above Lake of the Clouds with Fall Colors in Michigan
© Daniel Thornberg / Alamy Stock Photo
This is considered by some to be the best trail not only in Michigan, but also perhaps in the entire Midwest. The overhanging views of the park’s wild interior will leave you in awe. Tourists drive to reach this point, but the hike itself is what makes it a view well-earned. Taking it all in from a ledge on the Porcupine Mountains can be intimidating, but that is your goal on this 8mi (13km) out-and-back trek. There are no points to get water, so do remember to bring your own.

Jordan River Pathway

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Map View

The Jordan River Pathway is a fairly difficult 18.8mi (30.45km) loop that takes around two days to complete, making it a popular trail for weekend hikers around Michigan’s Lower Peninsula. There are enough climbs to make it a serious test as you gaze into the valley while climbing up and down. There is plenty of wildlife along the Jordan River too. Beavers building dams and herons wading are commonplace, and in the spring there are a lot of mosquitos, so bring repellent or wait until October when the whole valley turns golden-yellow and red.

Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail

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Map View
Narada Lake, Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail, Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, Empire, Michigan, USA
© Pat and Chuck Blackley / Alamy Stock Photo
If you like your trails mostly paved, head to Glen Arbor, the town nearest to the start of the Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail. It’s a perfect trail for wheelchair users or for those who like to cycle or run on pavement instead of hike in the woods. A scenic marathon is run here annually, with the trees offering shade along the path. Bike rental is found in Glen Arbor where you can ride to the Dune Climb. Come winter, bring your snowshoes and crunch your way along it.

Manistee River Trail

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Map View

When you hike this 11mi (17.7km) trek, you can work your way up to some incredible views of the river twisting and turning below you. However much ground you cover, it is more effortless than other trails in this region. If you choose to do the full 31.1km (19.3mi) loop, you will likely want to camp for at least a night. There are campsites available that come equipped with the basics. In Seaton Creek you’ll find campsites next to a waterfall, which is the highlight of this hike by far.

Sturgeon Falls

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Map View
Sturgeon River Gorge and Falls, Michigan
© Craig Sterken / Alamy Stock Photo
This trail near Baraga is only an estimated two miles (3.2km) round-trip, but it is an extremely challenging effort. The descent as you wind down into Sturgeon Gorge is steep, but it leads to very powerful waterfalls. It is always worth remembering that however treacherously steep it is to descend, it is certainly an equal effort to clamber out of the canyon. If you do wish to spend the night before your return, there are some campsites nearby. This is a hike for those who like to tough it out.

Vasa Trail

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Map View

This all-year-round trail in the Pere Marquette State Forest, close to Traverse City, appeals to hikers and mountain bikers alike, but it is also Michigan’s best ski trail. Come winter, it plays host to those who like to slip on cross-country skis and take on the snow-covered terrain. It is a 26mi (42km) loop that brings you close to all kinds of wildlife, including the prospect of black bears. In hunting season, it is wise to wear bright orange for your protection.

These recommendations were updated on August 3, 2020 to keep your travel plans fresh.

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